Health hazards of exposed fiberglass insulation

Updated February 21, 2017

Fibreglass, fibrous glass or glass wool are the most common names for a man-made fibre material made from glass. Fibreglass is used for many applications, including household heat retention, sound proofing, insulating consumer products and in roofing and curtain materials. Fibreglass can have potentially serious health effects on humans exposed to it, so it is only wise to learn these effects in order to protect your family from exposure.

Insulation Exposure

Insulation that is installed in the home, such as interior wall insulation, will not present problems for residents unless the insulation is dislodged or disturbed in some way. This is because fibreglass is only problematic to humans when it is cut, trimmed, chopped, sanded or sawn. It is the inhalation or swallowing of or skin contact with this fibreglass dust that represents the most serious risks to human health.

Health Effects

To a large extent, the health effects of fibreglass exposure depend on the size of the fibres in question. Large fibres cause irritation of the skin and eyes and laboured breathing. Skin exposure could result in a short-term rash, and eye exposure may cause redness and irritation of the eyes, which is also short term. Inhalation of fibreglass dust can exacerbate asthma or other chronic respiratory conditions in susceptible individuals. Smaller dust particles may be more harmful to human health because of their ability to reach deeper parts of the lungs, and some materials used in fibreglass construction have been classified as carcinogens, though some controversy surrounds this classification.

Exposed Fiberglass

Protecting your family from the harmful effects of fibreglass exposure can be done in a few simple steps. If there is exposed fibreglass in your home, have it repaired or replaced. If someone does come into contact with the exposed fibreglass, rinse the eyes with water and wash skin with water and soap. Clothes that are exposed to fibreglass insulation should be washed by themselves, and the washer should be wiped down afterward.

Other Protective Measures

Protective and preventive measures should always be exercised when handling fibreglass in the home. Always wear gloves and loosefitting clothes that cover as much of your skin as possible when working with the material. Wear breathing and eye protection at all times. Ventilate the room to remove the dust and vacuum the area thoroughly after completing the work.

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About the Author

Eoghan McCloskey is a technical support representative and part-time musician who holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and political science from Texas State University. While at Texas State, McCloskey worked as a writing tutor at the Texas State Writing Center, proofreading and editing everything from freshman book reports to graduate theses.